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William Maxwell – marvelous editor and writer

Wm Maxwell

Today I’d like to recommend a wonderful writer, William Keepers Maxwell, (1908-2000) whose work I have been immersed in. I knew he was a distinguished editor; he was at The New Yorker from 1936 to 1975, and was the editor of such luminaries as Salinger, John Cheever, Frank O’Connor and Eudora Welty. He was a quiet man who did little to promote himself or his own work. He cared about editing in an old-fashioned way and practiced it with dedication. I recently read a big volume of his early novels and stories (published by Library of America), which is excellent. At his best, I think he is as good as Cheever, which is high praise. One of Maxwell’s better known stories that was published in the New Yorker is “The Thistles in Sweden,” a masterpiece. He is very good at elegiac descriptions of the past and evocations of worlds that don’t exist any more, such as France shortly after World War II. His humor is dry and his observations of people are fascinating. Maxwell’s literary reputation has apparently grown since his death. I highly recommend his stories and novels to you. Benjamin Cheever said of Maxwell’s carefully crafted prose, “…it can be read like poetry.”

Publishing poetry – a privilege

books cat tapestry

I’ve been publishing poetry books since 2003 – 91 of them, including many anthologies. I hope to keep doing it for a long time. I feel sure that I will never run out of excellent poetry manuscripts to turn into books. There are so few outlets for poetry if you don’t get accepted by an academic press or go the self-publishing route. I turn down at least ten manuscripts for each one I accept. They continue to pour in via email and “over the transom”, as the publishers used to say, in snail mail. I love the book design part of the job, too. (Note: please email me before sending an unsolicited manuscript.) In a good year, I publish six books and break even without personally subsidizing the business. If you care about poetry, you can help by buying Moon Pie Press books either from the website or from poets at readings. Come to readings. Support poets. Give their books as gifts.

Here is a short poem by Andrew Periale of New Hampshire, from his 2016 calendar A Woodland Sketchbook, featuring art by his wife Bonnie Periale.

Broad-Winged Hawk

He kills without remorse
And much of what he eats is garden pests.
Raccoons and bears will raid his nests,
So nature strikes a balance in due course.
He flies four thousand miles to breeding range.
Monogamous, he finds himself a mate
and then with up to four eggs they are blest.
This compact hawk is territorial,
long-lived, diurnal, predatorial
and glides on currents like a swift corsair.
A monarch of the northern boreal,
its voice a shrill slice in the sylvan air.

The importance of poetry, and truth

owl and fall foliage

My poet and musician friend Dave Morrison of Camden, Maine recently published a book of poems about his battle with cancer. I was happy to write a blurb for it because I am a big fan of his work. He is honest, never pretentious or opaque and manages to find humor in the most unlikely situations. To me telling the truth in poetry is all-important, as it almost always is in life. If I can’t ascertain truth in a poem, it does nothing for me. So that means that clever word play or beautiful images are not enough, except perhaps in ancient forms like haiku. (What one likes in poetry is subjective, of course. My own taste leans toward narrative poems, “accessible” (meaning understandable) poems, and poems that are not afraid to be humorous. This is not to say that I don’t appreciate other kinds of poetry, too.)  Campbell McGrath puts it so well: “That’s all we have in poetry land: the truth. We are not well paid, and we are not respected in our land or time, but we can tell the truth. We don’t have to accede to the hypocrisies and half-truths that surround us. We are not driven by a market economy whose rewards bend and corrupt us. That’s a great gift and worth the economic tradeoff.” I try to keep that in mind as I struggle to keep my small poetry press afloat. Dear friends, consider buying poetry books for holiday presents this year; support some poets and help spread some truth.

The year turns again to autumn

This is a tree in my neighborhood in Maine.  It’s a cliché but a true one that most of us feel lucky to live in New England this time of year.  The “FOILAGE”, as I heard someone say on the radio, is spectacular.  One’s thoughts turn to cooking, comfort food, approaching holidays, wearing fleece and putting the flannel sheets on the bed.  And, of course, reading and other indoor activities.  I read a wonderful book recently, ON THE MOVE, Dr. Oliver Sacks’ memoir.  What an extraordinary man, multi-talented and in love with language.  I had read some of his books about neurological patients and they were very good, but the memoir is even more fascinating, and I recommend it highly to you.  neighbor tree October

Finally – spring in New England, and National Poetry Month

daffodils_04

April is always full of poetry events. This year is no exception. I try to list all the ones involving Moon Pie Press poets on the website at http://www.moonpiepress.com. Here is a lovely poem about what sustains some of us through a long winter. It is by former Portland Poet Laureate Bruce Spang, whose latest book from Moon Pie Press is BOY AT THE SCREEN DOOR.

THE COLOR OF FAITH

Minus fifteen degrees, even the thermometer on the deck
recoils under its lid. Like a man with a Bible in a bombed out building,

I unearth a Johnny’s Selected Seed catalog
in the mail. Fields of Allstar Gourmet Lettuce,

mottled rows of purple and green, spread
beneath bare feet of a girl who slices one head

after another like the Queen in Wonderland.
I twist the space heater dial to high and flip

to Amaranthus, with its ropes of deep red,
fold the page; find a new Echinacea, Pallida

with long slender purple petals, fold it.
Colors splash on my lap, yellow tomatoes,

blue aster, pink poppies, and on page
sixty-eight, skins of peppers glistening

as brightly as the snow did this afternoon,
yet sliced open like hearts. Look, there is

Joe Pye Weed that releases a vanilla scent.
Smell it. Write it. Fill in the order form.

A list: books about writers/writing

book and yellow cat

I’ve always been a list maker and love lists – especially of books. It’s one of the best things about amazon (which has some negative aspects – a subject for a different blog entry) and sites like Goodreads. No matter how eclectic your subject, you can find reading lists put together by other people – some of them smart, some quirky, some plain crazy.

Today I’m going to list some interesting books I’ve read and enjoyed about writers, writing or books. I know the list is all over the place. I’d love to hear suggestions of your own in the comments. Here are twelve.

Death In Venice
Enderby’s End
Fear of Flying
The Golden Notebook
Angle of Repose
Misery
A Widow For One Year
The Sportswriter
The Shadow of the Wind
Fahrenheit 451
The Kite Runner
That Old Cape Magic

Winter beats us down in New England

snowy trees

Truman C with cat

Everyone is tired and crabby after the past month or so of snow, bitter cold and more snow. Boston is a big mess that is making national news. Here in southern Maine we are not paralyzed to that extent, but driving is treacherous and we’re running out of places to put snow. Tonight into Sunday another 12-15″ is predicted, with 50mph+ winds. I went to my town library yesterday and stocked up for the long weekend with books and a movie.

Here is a photo of my late cousin Truman Capote with a cat – I have a collection of photos of writers with their pets and will keep throwing them in randomly. Capote has been on my mind since the hoopla over the pending release of his friend Harper Lee’s sequel to TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. I can’t help but wonder what Capote would think of all this, or of the book itself. His original last name was Persons; my father’s cousin Archie was his father. Truman’s mother later married Mr. Capote and changed the boy’s name. I never met him, but am a long time admirer of his writing.

Here is a short winter poem by Thomas Campion (1576-1620)

Now the winter nights enlarge
The numbers of their hours
And clouds their storms discharge
Upon the airy towers.
Let now the chimneys blaze
And cups overflow with wine;
Let well turned words amaze
With harmony divine.